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National Wildlife Federation v. Department of Environmental Quality

Citation: 44 ELR 20186
No. 308366, (Mich. Ct. App., 08/12/2014)

A Michigan appellate court upheld the state environmental agency's decision to grant a groundwater discharge permit to a company in connection with its plan to develop an underground mine to extract nickel and copper from the sulfide ores beneath the headwaters of the Salmon Trout River. The permit, which covers discharges of stormwater coming into contact with potentially polluting materials at the surface of the mine site, drainage water collected from the development rock storage area, and water pumped out of the mine to enable mining operations, authorizes a maximum daily discharge of 504,000 gallons per day, or 350 gallons per minute, through a treated water infiltration system. Environmental groups argued that the state permitting process also should have covered the company's plans to recirculate utility water within the mine, to backfill the mine cavity over time by returning development rock to it, and to re-flood the mine upon the completion of operations. But those activities either do not involve discharges within the meaning of the administrative rules, or are subject to specific exemptions from the permitting requirements as set forth in those rules. In addition, the agency did not err in approving plans for the wastewater treatment system even though the design was not yet complete, because the design was sufficiently advanced to allow the agency to evaluate it. Last, the company's estimates and assumptions used to predict the quality of influent and rate of water inflow satisfied the applicable regulations, and the company used the best available information and technology in so doing.